Initial Thoughts on the Memos

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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1 Response

  1. Roque Nuevo says:

    What jumped out at me when I read the Carpenter post you link to was this:

    What Bybee is describing here can’t quite be called a “ticking bomb” scenario one might see in a movie or read about in a law review article, but it’s about as close as one gets in real life. With the danger believed to be high and the detainee obviously knowledgeable, time becomes critical.

    One can imagine a couple of default rules in cases of uncertainty about what constitutes torture: (1) err on the side of respecting the human dignity and health of the detainee, in accordance with longstanding national and international commitments and aspirations, or (2) err on the side of getting information believed to be necessary to protect human life, using techniques believed to work. The choice of default depends on which values seem paramount at the moment. It seems silly to think that these default rules and the values they represent are never in tension. And it seems too hard and pure to imagine that there aren’t cases and times, like America in 2002, where one might sometimes choose the latter default rule over the former.

    Where one could fault Bybee is in his initial call about which techniques are close to the line of torture and thus subject to an uncertainty default rule at all. Putting someone in uncontrollable fear of imminent death by drowning — as in water boarding — is a death threat. Forcing someone to stay awake for up to 11 days, perhaps by making them stand, shackled to a ceiling or wall (the precise method for keeping them awake is, incredibly, not even considered in the Bybee memo), at least runs a serious risk of causing severe physical or mental pain or suffering.

    Bybee had before him a prospect we do not confront. If he refused to authorize the techniques the CIA told him it wanted to use, and on that basis the CIA did not use the techniques and did not get further information from Zubaydah, and a devastating terrorist attack followed, his high regard for human dignity would today be seen as a foolish and even calloused disregard for human lives.

    All of this may argue for more precision in the definition of torture, including the banning of specific techniques of interrogation in federal law (as opposed to executive policy). Of course that would limit the flexibility one needs to meet unforeseen and dire circumstances. But one way or another torture will be given clearer definition: either in open democratic debate or in secret memos and prisons.

    Carpenter’s conclusion here supports my point about Congress’s responsibility for legislating in the face of asymmetric warfare.Report